Minecraft is about the big things, just as much as it favors the small. It’s almost impossible to think of Minecraft without envisioning the picturesque structures, from castles to cities, that have been constructed by fans. But Minecraft is also about the minor touches, and sometimes they are what you remember the most–that feeling of awe as you peer across a forest of snow-capped oak, nearly out of sight, the sense of relaxation as you watch the sun set behind a distant mountain, and the sharp intake of breath as you stare deep into an underground mine lit by glowing pools of red-hot lava. Minecraft: Xbox One Edition offers both worlds, large and small, as well as the tools to create your own voxel-constructed paradise.
As if climbing a ladder, you start at the bottom and work your way through technology. Spawning a procedurally generated world in Minecraft’s default survival mode for the first time places you at the bottom rung, where your goal is to seek tools, shelter, and food. The humorous term “punching trees” was popularized by Minecraft, as your earliest task involves hammering away at the nearest oak or spruce tree for blocks of wood. From wooden tools and weapons, you soon move to stone, then iron, and then, if you’re fortunate enough to find it deep in the earth, diamond–not unlike rising through the tiers of the ages of man. Killing animals such as cows or pigs yields food, which staves off hunger, at least for a short while.
With the crafting menu, you turn wood into planks and then create a crafting table, the backbone of your Minecraft experience. The crafting table in Minecraft’s console versions hasn’t changed since the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, for which the options are vastly different compared to the game on PC. Here, all items, from tools to decorations, are available for you to investigate. If you have the material to construct a certain item, it will be fully colored in; otherwise, it remains slightly opaque. On the PC, however, crafting requires a method of trial and error, where you place materials such as wooden planks and sticks on a nine-by-nine board to create new items. On console, you need only have the necessary material in your inventory to craft items. The process is more streamlined, and it prevents you from constantly rubbing several things together in hopes of creating something useful, as well as from looking up crafting recipes online, so you can get to building your blocky empire more quickly.
As your knowledge grows, so does the complexity of your projects and the scope of your adventures. A small hut awkwardly cobbled together from blocks of wood and stone is a strange thing to take pride in, and yet it’s hard not to feel some accomplishment in its creation. It’s small, it’s ugly, and there’s a good chance the floor is made of dirt, but it’s yours. As you learn the odds and ends of creation in Minecraft, that motley shack will be traded in for a cabin deep in the woods or a castle high on a mountaintop where you can survey the land through its windows. Or it could become something else, anything else, as your hand is guided by your imagination, your only limit on what you can accomplish.
Minecraft doesn’t include a story to follow or missions to complete; your quests are set by you, but the journey can be just as rewarding as those found in other games. There are many sights to see, from the aforementioned sprawling oak forests covered in snow to mucky swamplands with vines and water flecked with green lily pads. Your adventures often carry a similar tone to those found in Fallout or Elder Scrolls games, where a trip through the desert on a hunt for crafting materials is stopped short as a village materializes in your peripheral vision, luring you with villager trade, books to steal, and crops to harvest. In that same desert, you could stumble upon a half-buried temple, where beneath its floor lies secret treasure–as well as an untimely end for brazen travelers who ignore the hidden trap.
Some familiar Xbox franchises get the Minecraft treatment.
There are dangers in Minecraft that stalk every dark corner and winding tunnel. At night, vicious creatures roam, threatening you with poisoned fangs and sharp arrows. You can protect yourself with armor and weapons, crafted from materials ranging from leather from slaughtered cows or iron discovered embedded in stone. But even the most seasoned Minecraft veterans can fall prey to the many enemies that haunt the land. Cave spelunking is often quickly ended by an undetected creeper, its blood-curdling hiss the last thing you hear before the inevitable explosion. I have been knocked into a river of lava by a skeleton archer just out of range more often than I care for, once even during the course of this review. The loss is always a bitter pill, but you can always respawn and try to recover any lost items. That is, unless they fall into lava, in which case it’s time to start over (I hate those archers so, so much).
It’s not expected that you will raise a castle or stretch railways across the land overnight, but Minecraft: Xbox One Edition does well in easing you into the basics as you move along. Enabled by default, tooltips inform you of the uses of the many blocks that surround you. You learn that throwing blocks of sand into a furnace will result in glass or that nether quartz, found in Minecraft’s hellish nether, can be crafted into blocks of marble. The in-depth tutorial mode is like a game itself, and it is here that you learn everything that Minecraft is about. The tutorial takes you from learning how to construct small structures and tools to spending gained experience points on enchanting tables to add extra bite to your sword or efficiency to your pickaxe. Minecraft: Xbox One Edition does a fantastic job of blending useful information and advice into its design, allowing you to play the major role in its lessons.
Minecraft: Xbox One Edition surpasses the Xbox 360 Edition with cleaner, sharper visuals, and a farther view distance, and it runs at 60 frames per second for complete smoothness.
In Minecraft, you don’t need to take on adventures alone. Killing skeleton archers drops bones, which you can offer a wolf for the chance that it will become a friendly dog that stays by your side and protects you from enemies. In the wild and bright-green jungles live spotted ocelots, which have a chance to transform into adorable house cats after being fed a fish. But if it’s the comfort of fellow humans you seek, you can bring along up to seven friends on Xbox Live to join you on your journeys. Minecraft is an excellent social game, one where ambitious projects no longer seem so laborious when more hands are added to the fold. You can also play with a four-player split screen, where family or friends can tackle any undertaking together.
Minecraft on the Xbox One is similar to its PlayStation 4 iteration in both performance and accessibility, with only a few notable differences. Both versions allow you to load saved files from their prior console generation, though your old map is still unfortunately limited to its original size, surrounded by invisible borders. The latest versions are much larger, featuring map sizes roughly 37 times larger by volume than what the prior games boast. However, the size is not unlimited; there is still an impassable wall, but the land within is enormous nonetheless, so it’s improbable that you will see and do everything too soon. Minecraft: Xbox One Edition surpasses the Xbox 360 Edition with cleaner, sharper visuals, and a farther view distance, and it runs at 60 frames per second for complete smoothness. The game also includes a creative mode, which allows you to create without the limitations of materials. In this mode, you can fly around the land and construct anything you desire.
Where the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions differ the most is downloadable content. Both ports feature multiple skin packs, but they star different characters. On Xbox One, you can purchase packs that allow you to play as the Master Chief or Gordon Freeman, while the PlayStation 4 offers characters from God of War and The Last of Us. Minecraft: Xbox One Edition, however, includes resource packs with theme block textures to match Skyrim, Mass Effect, or Halo, which are not currently available on PlayStation 4 (though I don’t expect to see a Halo motif any time soon for Sony’s console).
Like the PlayStation 4 version, Minecraft on Xbox One plays second fiddle to the game on PC. The latest iteration of Minecraft on PC includes horses that populate grassy plains, fluffy rabbits, as well as updated flora, and stained glass. However, it’s better to view the PC experience not just as a better or different Minecraft but as a vision of what the game will soon become for consoles. Minecraft: Xbox One Edition offers dozens and dozens of hours’ worth of entertainment, and as time goes by, updates will include even more to see and animals to interact with. Much like going from a rustic shelter to a statuesque castle, Minecraft: Xbox One Edition will only offer more in time, with future updates adding even more hours to a game already brimming with near-endless potential.